There are many phrases teachers can’t stand. One of them for me is, “I don’t have…” you name it, pencil, pen, book, backpack, homework, etc. Kids being unprepared is a part of teacher life, but if it’s the same kids all the time, that gets really frustrating. I found this to be particularly disheartening with my lower-level, mostly at-risk students. Most of the time, they just couldn’t be bothered to bring their necessary materials to class. This was different from students who couldn’t afford supplies – I’m talking about the kid who just shows up to class with absolutely nothing except himself and the clothes on his back. Or the ones sagging to the ground. And of course, I noticed that the students who routinely failed to be prepared were the ones with the lower grades. How was I going to fix this? (Because you know it’s always what the teacher can do, not what the students or families can do…)
Three things worked for me: 1) golf pencils, 2) the school store, and 3) student-kept behavior checklists.
To combat the writing tool chasm, I bought boxes of golf pencils. They’re cheap and kids hate them. They’re uncomfortable to write with. So any time a kid announced he didn’t have something to write with, I’d silently point at the golf pencil cup and they would saunter over and, begrudgingly, take one. That, or they’d immediately find a neighbor who was willing to part with one of their pens or pencils. Either way, it saved me from the hassle of arguing with a kid over being prepared. Yes, many of them migrated away (which was odd, considering how much the kids told me they hated them), but they’re cheap and were easy to replace.
Eventually, I decided I’d like to start making kids pay for their supplies. I never made a profit – I always charged at cost prices – but the kids had to pay up to get stuff. This worked surprisingly well. I started off selling pencils, but eventually I got to selling pens, notebooks, highlighters, and a whole host of other things. Kids I didn’t even know would come into my room sometimes asking to buy things because they’d heard of my store from friends. I never broadcast to any colleagues that I was selling things on the black market, but I figured since I was only making enough money to replace the items I bought in the first place, no one could get too mad at me. Besides, it’s easier to ask for forgiveness than permission.
Finally, to combat unpreparedness and the behavioral issues that went along with it, I instituted student-kept behavior checklists. These had my five main rules: be on time, be prepared, be safe, be productive, and be respectful. Next to each one, there were examples of what those behaviors looked like. There was a weekly checklist and also a daily checklist – for the kids who were really lost – for students to fill out and submit to me. They got to pick a reward (that was reasonable – a late homework pass or something equivalent, although it was nice if parents got involved to let the reward be something at home) and if they scored a certain total on their checklist for the week they would earn that reward. It really helped kids see how much they weren’t doing and led to improved preparedness and overall behavior.
My student-kept behavior checklist is available on my TpT store at http://www.teacherspayteachers.com/Product/Student-kept-Behavior-Checklists-372239